And Soon The Dotrice

Skies 

Robert Fuest’s first film, AND SOON THE DARKNESS, starts with two Brits, Pamela Franklin and Michelle Dotrice (pronounced “dough-treece”) on the world’s most boring holiday, cycling across a totally flat stretch of French countryside. They stop at a roadside bar ~

“Did you get your bum pinched?”

“No, that’s Italy. They’ll do anything in Italy.”

“What’re we doing in France then?”

This slightly smutty, un-PC girltalk gets things off to a good start, striking one as credible and well-observed, and the actresses handle it well. Franklin had played little Flora in Jack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS, and Dotrice went on to co-star in the hugely successful 70s sitcom SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM, and both are terrific, naturalistic players, who always feel overheard rather than performative.

The Girl with Green Eyes

Fuest, fresh from designing and directing episodes of TV’s The Avengers, has a passable thriller plot by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation (both from that show — Nation also created the Daleks): Dotrice vanishes and Franklin finds the entire countryside is populated only with red herrings — and one sex-killer.

The central premise sometimes feels like an expansion of the build-up to Hitchcock’s cropduster attack in NORTH BY NORTHWEST — unseen terror in a landscape of limitless,blank horizons. Though in fact the bright flatness does yield to tangled woods, presenting a contrast between total visibility with nothing to see, and dense impenetrability where something may be lurking millimetres away.

Fuest, one of the great director-designers, has handicapped himself with a film where there seems to be nothing to design, but he exercises his eye with strong compositions and a sensitivity to objects, both the shiny kind brought by the tourists, and the rusty local equipment.

Tranny

Can

He’s also attentive enough, without being lecherous, to his leading ladies. They spend the whole film in tight, huge shorts — this is a film very much focussed on the plump white thighs of young English womanhood, and white panties hung to dry on a tree are a major plot point, but Fuest’s interest is frank rather than salacious. He doesn’t have the slightly seedy intensity of someone like Nicholas Roeg, who is rather too concerned with the passage of Jenny Agutter’s knickers up and down her thighs (Roeg was — maybe IS — a swinger, I’ve been told — parties, car keys, the whole bit — which makes total sense when you put it together with his films). Indeed, Fuest’s DR PHIBES films may be proto-slasher movies, but they’d more concerned with killing esteemed British character actors than busty dolly birds, which makes them rather refreshing in their sadism.

Thighs

The plot slips into variations on THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE — of course she’s going to cold-cock a suspected killer and run smack into the waiting arms of the real killer, but it has the benefit of that compelling news story subject: something nasty happening to normal young holidaymakers, and despite the title there’s no darkness in sight — Fuest’s credit even appears over sunlight glinting through leaves, and the whole action takes place on a single day under blue skies… though a storm is predicted…

Wet Afternoon

Suggested Fever Dream Double Feature: THE VANISHING (original Dutch version), or make it a Dotrice double with the mind-blowing ~The Crow

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4 Responses to “And Soon The Dotrice”

  1. How interesting. Some names here triggered memories of recent encounters; Roy Dotrice in a recently watched episode of Angel of all things, an immersion in the dvd of Brian Clemens’ Thriller (early episodes almost indistinguishable from Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place but in a good way) and Jenny Agutter who I occasionally met through my previous work in Camberwell, South London. As we talked I couldn’t help but repeat in my head, “I’ve seen you naked, I’ve seen you naked” like some adolescent tourette.

  2. I always expect that when I meet nudie actresses (and none was ever nudier than Agutter, except Mirren maybe) but it hasn’t happened. Maybe because I’d normally be thinking “I want to see you naked,” it actually takes the tension away.

    I was smiled at by Greta Scacchi once, which was quite a powerful experience.

    Must see some Thriller sometime!

  3. That’s my cue for my all-time favorite Hollywood story.

    Greta Scacchi, as her devoted fans well know, is famous for taking off her top. For years a running gag at Los Angeles Film Critics Awards meetings was to bestow a special award on Greta Scacchi — “for obvious reasons.”

    Then Dangerous Liansons came along. As I’m sure fans of feminine pulcritude well know an early high point was a scene in which the luscious Uma Thurman takes off a white shift revealing — a balcony you do Shakespeare from. And so the word went out — “Greta has a competitor!”

    This was quite early on in the pre-release process. Todd McCarthy, a major fan of beautiful naked women, had been aborad at sundry festivals and missed the early screenings. But he’d heard what a treat was in store. So he gets to what turns out to be the last press screening, and finds himself a seat way down in front. The Great Moment arrives and — suddenly a voice pipes up from the the back of the auditorium.

    “They’re not that big!”

    Todd turns to learn the identity of the speaker.

    It was Greta Scacchi.

  4. Sweet!

    The puppet show Spitting Image did a sketch in which a puppet Scacchi insists on being topless for a flustered Richard Attenborough, and apparently this upset GS so much she resolved to go clothed indefinitely. This coincided with her appearance in The Player, and had several effects. Altman was aghast that this actress had gone nude for everybody else and was refusing to do so for the great RA. So he compensated by dressing her in distractingly clingy costumes throughout, And because The Player was supposed to be made in the style of indulgent Holywood dross, there had to be gratuitous nudity, so Altman asked the character actress playing Tim Robbins’ girlfriend. She was kind of touched because nobody had ever asked before.

    Paul Newman said “It’s the kind of film where you don’t see the tits you wanna see and you DO see the tits you don’t wanna see,” which is one way of looking at it.

    And Greta was back being nude within about a year.

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